Over 200 NY Educators Receive Erroneous Scores Linked to Student Performance

Date Posted: 
Tuesday, January 26, 2016

This article was written by Elizabeth A. Harris and first appeared on January 25th in the New York Times.

More than 200 teachers and principals received erroneous scores from New York State on a contentious measurement that ties their performance to how well their students do on tests, according to state documents obtained by The New York Times.

The error, which affected a small percentage of scores for the 2014-15 academic year, could be another blow to the practice of linking educator performance to student exams, a system that has come under fire in recent years.

A letter sent to district superintendents on Friday said that certain test results had been excluded from state-provided growth scores — which track student performance on state exams — for less than 1 percent of the more than 40,000 educators who received such feedback.

The state Education Department attributed the error to a contractor, American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science research group based in Washington, and said the blunder affected principals and certain teachers whose growth scores included schoolwide measurements of student performance. (Teachers whose scores incorporated only their own students’ tests were not affected.) The letter said the problems occurred “almost exclusively” in grades nine through 12.

The error involved numerical scores that are translated into growth ratings, which can be classified as “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” or “ineffective.” Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the Education Department, said that while about 250 principals and teachers received incorrect scores, the error was large enough only to change the growth ratings for 30 educators, all of whom were principals. That metric is just one of several components in an overall performance rating, and Mr. Tompkins said that no overall performance ratings were affected by the errors.

Nonetheless, he said scores for the more than 40,000 educators would be recalculated at the contractor’s expense; the higher score would be the one that counts.

“No one will be negatively impacted by A.I.R.’s error,” Mr. Tompkins said.

It is not the first time there have been errors in test-based ratings. Three years ago, the Washington public school system said that problems in its measurements had led to erroneous ratings for 44 teachers, one of whom was fired as a result of the poor evaluation.

In New York, the practice of linking evaluations to student test performance has faced criticism. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed hard last year to increase test scores’ role in evaluations, saying the old system gave out too many high ratings.

But a growing movement, fueled primarily by parent and union activism, encouraged families to “opt out” of the state’s standardized tests for grades three through eight, citing objections to their use in evaluations and concerns that they were narrowing school curriculums. Last year, 20 percent of students eligible to take those tests sat them out.

Now, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, appears to be backing away from giving so much weight to test scores. Last month, a task force convened by the governor proposed excluding test scores from teacher evaluations until 2019. Days later, the Board of Regents voted in favor of the moratorium.

Carl Korn, a spokesman for the New York State United Teachers union, said the moratorium should just be a starting point.

“The state’s growth measure is unreliable, unstable and inaccurate, and it should be thrown out altogether,” he said. “Errors of this sort prove that a complicated mathematical algorithm cannot be used reliably or accurately to measure either teacher effectiveness or student performance.”